Slow Internet is a pain—worse, it costs you productivity. If it takes your slow Internet an extra second to load each webpage and you load 120 webpages a day, slow Internet costs you over 12 hours a year. That’s a whole lot of time you could put to more productive or more entertaining use.
The causes of slow Internet vary. Sometimes the simplest solution is just to upgrade your Internet service. But sometimes your slow service is related to an equipment problem or a software screw up. Let’s look at five of the usual suspects:
1—Is Your Computer Sick?
Viruses are a huge problem. We know millions of PCs are infected with viruses because these virus-infected computers form massive botnets which send most of the world’s spam, power most of the world’s major denial-of-service attacks, and host most of the world’s phising websites.
If your computer is infected by a virus, that virus is probably on the Internet right now doing something illegal and immoral—and it’s doing it using your limited Internet bandwidth.
To discover whether you have a virus installed on your computer, install anti-virus software (if you don’t already have it) and run a full system scan. It will take a while. If it finds a virus, follow its instructions. If it doesn’t find a virus, then your slow Internet is probably caused by something else.
2—Your Computer’s Slight Of Hand
One of the most wonderful things about computers is that they can perform many tasks without supervision. But it can also be the case that your computer will keep doing something you don’t want indefinitely unless you tell it to stop.
For example: downloading and uploading files. Many programs today automatically configure themselves to download software updates. (Some even automatically install the updates.) But each time one of these programs downloads an update, it slows down your Internet speed.
Worse, more and more legitimate programs—such as World of Warcraft—are also using your computer to share program updates with other computers. Whenever a software update is available, World of Warcraft downloads it to your computer and then lets other computers download it from you.
Most home and small business Internet connections are asymmetrical—that means you have much less upload capacity than download capacity, so when programs use your computer to upload files, your Internet connection slows down much faster.
Another set of programs to watch out for is Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing programs such as LimeWire and BitTorrent. If these programs are set to start at boot, they can spend all day uploading files to other people, reducing your Internet speed to a crawl.
3—The Wait Before The Wait
If you pay very close attention to your Web browser, you’ll discover webpages download in two discrete steps:
- “Looking up example.com”
- “Connecting to example.com” and “downloading from example.com”
The first step gets hardly an attention from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their customers. Instead everyone wants to know how fast step two is.
But step two can’t happen until step one finishes. On a super-fast Internet connection, you might be able to download a webpage in just 1 millisecond—but it’s useless if you spend 50 milliseconds looking up the webserver.
What your Web browser means when it says “looking up example.com” is that it’s trying to turn example.com into a Internet Protocol (IP) address such as 126.96.36.199 using the Domain Name System (DNS) so your Web browser can connect to that address. It’s sort of like you looking up a name in a directory so you can call the person by phone.
Since very few customers care about DNS speed, very few ISPs work hard at making it fast. But you’re not stuck with your ISP’s DNS servers—you can use a free third-party DNS server optimized for speed such as OpenDNS.com.
5—Losing An Old Friend
It could be your Internet really isn’t slow—it just seems that way. This is often the case when you primarily view the Internet through your Web browser.
After your Web browser downloads a webpage, it tries to render it. That is, it looks at the HTML code and CSS style sheet and the images on the page and tries to put them all together in the right order.
This is an amazingly difficult process, and the fact that computers were able to do it 17 years ago in the Netscape Navigator days blows me away. But webpages today are getting more complicated and that means older computers are having trouble doing all of the necessary work within a reasonable amount of time.
If your computer is more than a few years old, it could be that your slow Internet is really just a slow computer. To see whether that’s the case, try loading the same page over the same Internet connection on a faster computer. If it loads faster, then a new computer is the only answer to your slow Internet.